Vatican -- Concern over transformation of disused churches

 Presov, Slovakia --- exterior and interior of a synagogue transformed into a department store. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber, 2006

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

What to do with abandoned or disused synagogues (in Europe but also elsewhere), and what constitutes appropriate use for them, are perennial issues affecting preservation agencies, congregants, and other interested parties. After the Holocaust, synagogues in many parts of Europe were sold or seized and transformed for secular use -- warehouses,  shops, apartments, workshops, fire stations, a bakery, libraries, museums, culture centers, restaurants, etc etc.

The Final Statement of the seminar last March on maintaining Jewish heritage sites suggested as best practice:
Synagogues and former synagogues should retain a Jewish identity and or use whenever possible, though each one does not necessarily need to be restored or fully renovated.

Former synagogues, no matter what their present ownership or use, should be sensitively marked to identify their past history.

As part of the effort to restitute communal and religious property, when a property of historic value - such as a synagogue - in disrepair or otherwise in a ruined condition (while in the government's possession) is returned, States should help either by modifying laws which impose penalties for not maintaining properties in reasonable condition, or by providing financial and material assistance to undertake necessary repairs and restoration.

Now, the Vatican has expressed similar concern over disused churches that are sold. According to AFP,
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's new chief of cultural affairs said Thursday that Roman Catholic churches where there were few worshippers could be sold off. But he urged "the greatest caution" in doing so.

A church in Hungary, he said,  was "transformed into a nightclub and where striptease took place on the altar."
The archbishop, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said dwindling numbers of worshippers at some churches meant it now made sense to sell, or even destroy, the buildings.

"Faced with falling number of worshippers, a phenomenon which we are also unfortunately witnessing in the centre of Rome, churches without any artistic value and which need significant work can be sold or destroyed," he told reporters.
Read full AFP story